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“I will be as vigorous in protecting you, as you are vigorous in protecting the American people.”

Setting aside the usual rock star welcome,  President Obama’s remarks during his first visit to the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA offers still another extraordinary moment in the interplay between the presidency and public sector professionalism. Here’s an article in the Post and a transcript of the President’s remarks – and here’s the video from cspan.org.

Following up on Patrick’s post, Slate’s Fred Kaplan offers a reasoned defense of the Panetta choice. The difficult trade-offs seem clearly to have delayed the pick – and the roll-out was uncharacteristically bumpy, but the transition seems committed to calming the waters. In an important steo (and consistent with Patrick’s thought) the transition is signaling  it will retain the C.I.A Deputy Director Stephen Kappes. An agency veteran, Kappes was pushed out during the Goss era and returned to the CIA under Director Hayden. His returned was widely viewed as a boost to badly-damaged morale at CIA. Here’s what the Post wrote in 2006 about the return of Kappes to CIA: Read the rest of this entry »

Panetta CIAThere is no question that Leon Panetta is a surprise choice for CIA director, but is he a wise one? Political scientist Amy Zegart calls the presumptive nomination “puzzling choice and a high-risk choice” because Panetta spent his career as a member of Congress and a Clinton White House advisor. Some members of Congress have expressed concern that he lacks sufficient qualifications in the intelligence field.

Conventional wisdom holds that appointees to specialized agencies should be experts in their fields. But some of the most successful appointees have been administrative politicians who managed relations with Congress, the White House, and states and localities. James Lee Witt was this kind of director when he led the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the agency’s golden years. Witt relied on a close circle of expert advisors for substantive advice, and he used his substantial administrative skill to implement their recommendations.

Panetta may turn out to be this kind of administrative politician if surrounds himself with qualified people. His qualifications as a politician and a manager are sterling. He’s also a natural policy wonk. Unlike his much-criticized predecessor Porter Goss, Panetta would do well to seek guidance from careerists in the agency who have spent decades in the intelligence business.

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